Bankruptcy filers often dread the idea of going to court. They are embarrassed to have the details of their financial problems revealed and discussed in front of strangers in a public setting. Also, many associate going to court with having done something wrong. Sometimes the fear is so strong that it keeps them from filing for bankruptcy or even consulting a bankruptcy attorney, despite the fact that they desperately need the protection that bankruptcy can provide. The inescapable fact is that if you file chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy you are going to be required to personally go to court for hearings. The exact number of times will depend on the details specific to your case, but most filers are required to appear in court 1-2 times during the course of their bankruptcy. The good news is that many clients find the experience to be less stressful and traumatic than they had anticipated, especially when they know what to expect.
If you file chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy you will be required to attend a 341 hearing which will take place 30-45 days after your bankruptcy attorney files. It’s important to note that this hearing will be run by the bankruptcy trustee and not by a judge. During this short hearing, the trustee will ask you questions about your finances and then creditors or their legal representatives will have a chance to also ask you questions. These questions may be quite specific, so it is wise to make sure that you understand your financial situation and have taken a look at your bankruptcy petition. However, the questions are generally yes or no questions that your bankruptcy attorney already asked you at your initial meeting.
The key thing to keep in mind when you go to court is that bankruptcy is what the judge, trustee, trustee staff attorneys, and your own lawyer do for a living. However bad your situation may be, rest assured that they have probably seen worse. It’s kind of like going to the doctor.
Hearing for Motion for Relief
When a secured creditor, usually a mortgage company, files a motion for relief, they want to foreclose on the debtor’s collateral, and the court holds a hearing. Debtors normally do not have to attend this hearing if they have already decided to surrender their house in a bankruptcy. However, if a debtor who files bankruptcy wants to keep his or her house and receives a motion for relief, the debtor must ensure that the monthly mortgage payments are current and can bring the payments current to avoid having to attend the motion for relief hearing.
Chapter 13 Confirmation Hearing and Motion to Dismiss Hearing
If you file chapter 13, there will be a Confirmation Hearing about 30-45 days after your 341 hearing. The good news is that you most likely will not be required to be present because objections by the trustee and any creditors are usually resolved before the date of the hearing. Likewise, you will most likely not have to attend a Motion to Dismiss Hearing. These hearings occur when a debtor falls behind on his or her payments under the chapter 13 plan or the plan was set up in such a way that the plan period exceeds the limit of 60 months.
Good General Tips
- Be presentable – Justice may be blind but making a good impression never hurts. Filers should be well-groomed and wear neat, well-kept clothing. Dress should be simple. Remember that you are seeking debt relief, so it is not the time to wear flashy jewelry or show off designer clothing. Anything with an identifiable logo or label should be left at home.
- Remember the metal detector – Courts are secured areas. Going to court is similar to going to the airport. You will be required to walk through a metal detector and you may be subject to search. Therefore, anything that is likely to set off a metal detector should be left at home along with anything that you do not want to have confiscated.
- Leave your cell phone in your car – Federal bankruptcy courts in Atlanta, Rome, Gainesville, and Newnan, Georgia, do not allow cell phones with cameras or any video recording devices into the buildings.
- Be on time – We all know what Atlanta traffic can be like, so plan on arriving early. The court has a large caseload and being late can delay the entire calendar. The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia is downtown in Atlanta so be prepared to pay for parking. If you are unfamiliar with this part of town consider making a practice trip.
- Be respectful – Remember that your hearing is an official proceeding. Listen to the judge and bankruptcy trustee and pay attention. Speak respectfully and avoid colorful language. It is best to leave children at home.
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, it is import to consult a qualified attorney. For a free initial consultation, please contact us online or call 404.585.0040.
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